Customs wants stiffer fines to help cut counterfeit imports

BY RACQUEL PORTER
Observer staff reporter
porterr@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 26, 2018

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THE Jamaica Customs Agency wants stiffer penalties to deter people from importing counterfeit goods.

The call yesterday by director of the agency's Contraband Enforcement Team Albert Anderson at the launch of Intellectual Property Week 2018 Public “Destruction Day” press conference at the police's Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch in downtown Kingston, comes on the heels of the recent seizures of counterfeit goods worth millions of dollars.

Since the start of the year, C-TOC has seized $615 million worth of counterfeit items in Kingston and Clarendon, and nine people have been arrested and charged with breach of the Customs Act, unauthorised use of trademark and misleading and deceptive conduct.

While Anderson did not indicate the level of increase he would like the fines to be moved to, under Section 210 (1) of the Customs Act, a person who is convicted of importing counterfeit goods “shall for each such offence incur a penalty of not less than treble the import duties payable on the goods nor more than treble the value of the goods; and all goods in respect of which any such offence shall be committed shall be forfeited”.

“The Jamaica Custom Agency faces a challenge in restricting the importation of these items at the point of arrival due to the limitation within our aged Customs Act. This is one of the reasons why we are now in the process of creating a new Customs Act that will be more effective in dealing with the current realities as the current Act does not effectively address several areas of concern. This new Act, once enacted, will serve as a major deterrent to importers of counterfeit items and further tighten our controls and our regulated ports, while allowing an almost seamless movement of goods between legitimate traders,” Anderson explained.

He told journalists that during the 2017/2018 period, approximately $376,743,040.00 worth of counterfeit goods were seized.

Of that figure, there were more than 98,000 pairs of footwear, more than 15,000 pieces of clothing, 11,000 handbags/purses, more than one million sticks of cigarettes and 2,000 sticks of cigars seized under the container security initiative and container control programme.

In addition, Anderson said there are 14 containers containing intellectual property right infringement items on the port awaiting destruction. However, he was unable to state the value of the items.

While the agency is seeking stiffer penalties, Anderson said Customs was also in the process of acquiring new X-ray machines that will be used at all airports and seaports.

“This new technology will facilitate increased trade facilitation, while enabling greater risk management through non-intrusive inspection. Effective risk management along with our X-ray capability will complement our limited human resources, therefore creating a platform for the identification and targeting of high-risk shipments and hence intensifying our pressure on illicit activities,” Anderson continued.

“This serves as a warning to persons involved in the smuggling of contraband through our ports, that it is time to cease and desist as the penalties will become more severe and the financial gains far less attractive,” Anderson added.

Following the press conference yesterday, seized counterfeit items were taken to the Riverton City dump where they were buried.

Intellectual Property Unit commanding officer, Assistant Superintend Victor Barrett told the Jamaica Observer that after persons are convicted the court has to make a ruling for the items to be destroyed.

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